We’re back with another Walt Disney World news roundup for February 18, 2022! This one covers the latest changes to park hours, upcoming crowds during Presidents’ Day weekend, improvements to the Cast Compliment app feature, the possibility of an Encanto attraction at Epcot, and more.
As usual, we’ll start with the latest release of new and modified operating schedules. All four theme parks have had hours for another week added to DisneyWorld.com’s park hours, and the current calendar now runs through April 30, 2022. Here are the hours for most dates that are newly-added for Spring 2022:
Magic Kingdom: 9 am to 9 pm
Epcot: 10 am to 9 pm
Hollywood Studios: 9 am to 9 pm
Animal Kingdom: 9 am to 7 pm
Disney Springs: 10 am to 11 pm (11:30 pm on Fridays & Saturdays)
Nothing in the way of extensions this week, but as a reminder, there are earlier openings and later closings for February 20-26, 2022. In particular, Magic Kingdom has had its closing extended until 10 pm on those dates (from 8 pm) and Animal Kingdom is opening an hour earlier and closing an hour later (now operating 8 to 8).
This isn’t a huge surprise. It’s the Presidents’ Day holiday long weekend, and next weekend is Princess Half Marathon Weekend plus the lead-up to Mardi Gras. Suffice to say, it’s going to be a very busy last couple weeks of February, and this is following a couple of months that have caught a lot of Walt Disney World guests by surprise.
Disney Park Pass reservations are fully booked for this weekend, with only Epcot having availability next Tuesday through Thursday at present. This is always a busy holiday weekend, so none of this should come as a surprise. (For more predictions, see our February 2022 Crowd Calendar.) Expect this trend to continue without much relief, as spring break season starts soon.
In other calendar news, Walt Disney World has added more dates for Extended Evening Theme Park Hours. The schedule is back to normal, meaning Monday at Epcot and Wednesday at Magic Kingdom. It would thus appear that Disney’s Hollywood Studios is a one-off in the lineup, rather than an expansion of the lineup. (Hopefully that changes when Fantasmic returns.)
On a more positive note, the new Cast Compliment feature in My Disney Experience has been improved! There used to be social media accounts for this, but they’re no longer monitored or utilized.
For accessing this feature, start by looking for the ’50th Anniversary Fun’ section of MDX. To make a Cast Compliment, hit “Explore the Guide,” and then scroll to the bottom of the next page. Previously, only the top section was virtually meaningless, as it only went to the department as a whole.
Now, you can send recognition to individual Cast Members. After choosing a positive sentiment from a drop-down menu, they can enter the cast member’s first name, hometown, and date of interaction. If Walt Disney World can locate them, the Cast Member will be alerted, along with their leader, and they can receive their personalized recognition.
Individual Cast Compliments are significant for internal recognition and career advancement opportunities. They are also presumably a nice morale boost. Way back in the day when I started working at Subway, it would make my week on the rare occasions when customers would say something kind to my boss. (The entitlement people think a $5 footlong buys them is absolutely asinine, so I can only imagine how much worse that is with a $5,000+ vacation.) Highly recommend that you commend the Cast Members who go above and beyond and make your vacation special.
In other news, Orlando International Airport (MCO) is busier than ever. The airport announced this week that it’s now the busiest airport in Florida and the 7th busiest in the United States, up from #9. Approximately 40.3 million passengers total traveled through MCO last year, up by 86% from the 2020 total.
That’s still down significantly from 2019, but the gap narrowed in the final two months of the year. MCO resumed international routes in November, and saw an immediate bump of 2 million passengers as a result, with international traffic up 20% since 2020. To close the year, there were several weeks when MCO’s traffic was almost on par with 2019. Given what we’ve seen thus far to start 2022, the airport is already set to outperform last year.
During a lengthy interview with The Wrap discussing a range of his projects with Disney, Lin-Manuel Miranda was asked about CEO Bob Chapek referring to Encanto as the company’s newest franchise.
To that, he responded, “I’m literally learning from you that Chapek said that. I talked to him and said, ‘I know there’s a world in which this casita lives in a theme park and we get to actually walk through it in real life.’ And that’s really exciting, but the other byproduct of all these characters is that there’s a lot more folks want us to explore and a lot that’s being explored.”
Lin-Manuel Miranda was also asked whether he’d want to see an Encanto theme park attraction in Disney California Adventure or Epcot, and he expressed enthusiasm: “I took my kids to Disneyland for the first time pre-pandemic a few years ago. And we sat through The Little Mermaid thing five times in a row. That’s where my brain goes. It’s like, I want to go in and out of this casita and see those characters and see the house respond because that’s something Disney can do that no one else can do.”
Miranda is referring to the Little Mermaid ~ Ariel’s Undersea Adventure at DCA (known as Under the Sea ~ Journey of the Little Mermaid at Magic Kingdom). You really can’t fault him for not knowing the ridiculous name(s) of the Little Mermaid dark ride. Even I have to Google it every single time I write it out.
Miranda also says that he and Chapek haven’t talked specifics and that the future of the franchise for Encanto is in the “really early days” and he doesn’t yet know what it’ll entail.
In his prepared remarks on last week’s earnings call, Bob Chapek expressed a lot of enthusiasm about Encanto, the breakout Disney+ hit. He covered its popularity in the parks, boasting that merchandise is flying off the shelves, and how proud he was that the franchise was launched by the Disney+ streaming service. Given that alone, it’s clear that there’s more to come for Encanto.
At this point, it’s probably not premature to fire up the “speculation mill” about how and when Encanto comes to Walt Disney World and Disneyland in full form. Every CEO tends to make their mark on the parks, and Encanto is the company’s biggest success under the Chapek regime thus far. His enthusiasm for Encanto sounded genuine on the call, and it’s pretty easy to tell with Chapek because he doesn’t really even try to feign enthusiasm (and when he does, it’s obvious).
I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s an announcement at the D23 Expo. For Walt Disney World, something small could come earlier. Mirabel appearing at DCA but not Walt Disney World means that Florida management likely declined promotional budget from Walt Disney Animation Studios (this happens often) under the mistaken assumption that Encanto wouldn’t be much of a hit on Disney+.
In the near-term, injecting characters from Encanto into entertainment at Walt Disney World should be high-priority. It’s mind-boggling that this hasn’t already happened. As soon as it was clear Encanto was a hit, someone should’ve gotten to work re-working Disney Adventure Friends Cavalcade to feature Encanto characters. That didn’t happen for some reason, so the same should occur with Mickey’s Magical Friendship Faire, the upcoming Cinderella Castle stage show.
If it were the 90s, we already would have a fully-fledged parade with giant inflatables, eclectic performers, and crazy costumes. The company was leaner and things just got done. Unfortunately, in today’s bloated corporate bureaucracy, nothing happens quickly. There need to be dozens of meetings and committees to reach obvious conclusions, like adding a character to a relatively generic cavalcade or stage show. But I digress.
It’ll be interesting to see whether there’s enough time before the D23 Expo in September for Imagineering to design and pitch an Encanto attraction, and for it to be greenlit. That would also be pretty quick turnaround time, assuming Imagineering doesn’t just come up with some quick and vague concept art and settles on the actual ride specifics later. That has actually happened a few times in recent years…but also for a couple of cancelled projects, so perhaps that’s not the way to go.
Although trackless dark rides are arguably now “played out” at Walt Disney World, the concept I’d love to see is basically a Mystic Manor style ride-through of Casa Madrigal. That Hong Kong Disneyland attraction is one of Imagineering’s best creations in the world; it’s essentially a tour of an (ahem) manor that is mystical, brought to life through the magic of music. Sound familiar?
Mystic Manor would offer the perfect template for an Encanto attraction. The casita is one of the best “characters” in the movie, and exploring the enchanted house would open the door for original ideas in the attraction, rather than another “book report” ride. (The Little Mermaid dark ride would be a poor template for an Encanto attraction.)
Plus, with Mystic Manor as the blueprint, the development time could presumably be shorter and something could be built sooner rather than later. It’d be nice to have a Frozen Ever After-esque turnaround time, rather than TRON Lightcycle Run one.
That’s just my take as someone who admittedly wasn’t huge on Encanto. (I really wanted to love it, but it’s no Frozen or Moana for me.) From my perspective, the Casa Madrigal is the most compelling character and is practically tailor-made for a theme park attraction. Encanto is a bit like Avatar in that regard, which the setting made ideal for a theme park land without regard for the movie’s actual plot and characters.
Imagineering could even dust off plans for the almost-announced Brazil pavilion, repurposing some of that for a Colombia pavilion in Epcot’s World Showcase. It could feature Carnival of Barranquilla, authentic exemplars of traditional colonial architecture (in addition to Casa Madrigal), and of course, the obligatory dining options (with alcohol already ubiquitous around World Showcase, maybe it’s time for a ‘coffee cave’).
What do you think about all this Walt Disney World news? Think an Encanto attraction will be announced at the D23 Expo? Would you prefer it in a Colombia pavilion at Epcot, or South America land at Animal Kingdom? Hopeful that Mirabel or other characters are added to entertainment or as meet & greets in the meantime? Do you agree or disagree with our commentary? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!